Striving for "faithful, honest, and permanent" art

  • Kelly Byquist

“I send this calendar suggestion for the coming year,” wrote James Franklin Gilman to Mary Baker Eddy towards the close of 1901, “in the hope and faith that it merits Mother’s approval.”1

Mr. Gilman’s skillful artistry had been featured on calendars in 1899, 1900, and 1901.2 He was hoping that the new one for 1902 would “prove helpfully suggestive, attractive, and acceptable as a souvenir of the coming holiday season.”3

These calendars for 1901, 1902, and 1903 were designed and published by James Gilman. The 1901 and 1902 editions featured “A Covert from the Tempest,” his 1901 engraving that depicts the Original Edifice of The Mother Church. The 1903 calendar featured “The Dawn at Lynn,” which Gilman copyrighted in 1900. Calendars, LMDB-15166, LMDB-15167, LMDB-15387, Longyear Museum collection.

James had learned by now to ask Mrs. Eddy for her approval on the sale of his calendar. A year earlier, after realizing that he should not “publish pictures relating to Christian Science without proper authorization,” he wrote her, “I desire to see clearly what is right, and to realize that obedience that is from heaven enables one to do right.”4

Apparently he received the permission he was looking for, as he moved ahead with publication.

“A Covert from the Tempest” by James F. Gilman. LMDB-13806, Longyear Museum collection. This picture depicts figures with umbrellas hastening towards a Wednesday evening testimony meeting in the Original Edifice of The Mother Church. The print appeared on the 1901 and 1902 calendars with this verse from Isaiah (32:2): “A man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind; and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” This Bible verse was included in Mrs. Eddy’s address for the laying of the church’s cornerstone in 1894, and was later published in Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896 (143-146).

The man behind the artwork

James Gilman was born in 1850, and by the time he was ten years old he was living in Woburn, Massachusetts, with his parents, John and Elisabeth, along with two sisters and a brother.5 His father was a cordwainer – a shoemaker “making ladies’ fine shoes” – and his “earnestly Christian mother” was a seamstress who, in James’s own words, planted the seeds “to a growing of religious ethics.”6

James was in his early twenties when he sold his first painting.7 Though without formal art training, the self-taught artist traveled from house to house throughout Massachusetts and Vermont, bartering for room and board in exchange for paintings and drawings.8 He drew portraits and landscapes, farms, houses, and fields. Decades later, he would write, “Our steadfast purpose has ever been, since we began in the artwork in 1870, to make faithful, honest, permanent pictures of value.”9

Photograph of James F. Gilman taken in Gardner, Massachusetts. Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Collection. Original in The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

In 1875, the itinerant artist became an instructor at Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont, where he taught penciling, watercolors, and oil painting.10 Several years later he published an instructional pamphlet titled “Instructions in Pictorial Art for Home Study.”

Advertisements of James Gilman as a portrait painter and teacher. Left: “Gilman’s Old Home Pictures,” 1904, LMDB-15388, Longyear Museum collection. Right: November 28, 1883 Vermont Watchman. 

About 1884, perhaps through neighborhood friends in Vermont, Gilman learned of Christian Science. After studying Science and Health, he wrote that he “was enabled very soon to find it the healing power of God, and also to find by it the spiritual explanation and much of the import of [my] early spiritual longings or ideals.”11

Portraiture would continue to interest James Gilman for many years. In 1892, he drew several portraits of Mary Baker Eddy, including this one. Original, conté crayon, private collection.

In November 1892, James made his way to Concord, New Hampshire. There, he met Mary Baker Eddy for the first time.12 Looking back, he described himself at this time as “a lone, homeless wanderer, with a native ability for picture making.”13 That native ability would soon be channeled into a project dear to Mrs. Eddy’s heart, and by the following year, Christ and Christmas, an illustrated poem written by Mrs. Eddy and painstakingly rendered by Gilman’s pen, was published. Working in collaboration with Mrs. Eddy, Gilman learned many lessons along the way.

A page from Christ and Christmas, by Mary Baker Eddy and James F. Gilman. This illustration is titled “Christmas Morn.” LMDB-4086, Christ and Christmas, first edition.

One such lesson came just a month after he began working on the illustrations, when Mrs. Eddy decided to drop the project. Feeling the sting of personal responsibility, James recorded in his diary that he was feeling “downhearted and sorrowful.” A few days later, however, buoyed by the “recognition of man’s real being,” he wrote Mrs. Eddy that, “in the case of so great and beautiful a poem as yours, there must be someone spiritually minded enough so that you would feel God’s approval in having the poem illustrated. . . . I feel that the work should not be given up simply because I have not proved to be spiritually equal to the task.”14

The next day, Mrs. Eddy asked Mr. Gilman to resume his illustration work, and upon viewing it told him, “Your thought is so much better and purer!”15

James quickly realized that “the self-love and self-complacency” he had been tolerating in himself was what had put a stop to the work, and that “a pure sense of the divine goodness” had completely transformed his thought.16

Drawn by Gilman in 1907, this charcoal illustration of a winter scene is titled “Olden New England” or “Old New England,” and is a rare example of his snow scenes.17 Artwork, 1991.017.1285, Longyear Museum collection.

In December 1894, James Gilman joined The Mother Church, and that same year co-published a book of engravings and photographs of the interior and exterior of Pleasant View, the home in New Hampshire where Mrs. Eddy lived from 1892 to 1908.18 Five years later, he moved to Orange, Massachusetts, where he was instrumental in organizing a Christian Science Society in neighboring Athol.19

Information about the Christian Science Society in Athol, Massachusetts, advertised in the Greenfield Recorder, November 28, 1900.
James F. Gilman’s practitioner listing in The Christian Science Journal for November 1896. He was listed from 1896 through 1905.20
A lithograph by James Gilman of what looks to be a Christian Science service in Athol, Massachusetts. The bearded man in the foreground is probably the artist himself.21 © The Mary Baker Eddy Collection. Original in The Mary Baker Eddy Library. Used with permission.

Later years

James Gilman picked up his pen and brush and returned to his easel in his later years.22 Portraiture, landscapes, and local neighborhoods continued to be the subject of his work. Described as “tall,” “slender,” “dignified,” and with “a friendly disposition,” he loved people, “especially children,” recalled one Athol resident.23

This photograph was taken on August 5, 1920, when Mr. Gilman visited Mary Beecher Longyear at her home near Boston. Photograph, P-0508, Longyear Museum collection.

Mary Coleman remembers an incident in 1925 when, as a child, she saw Mr. Gilman in her father’s barbershop. “The artist was carrying a hand-sewn box on the cover of which he had painted a sun-set,” she recalled. “Expressing interest in the box and its contents, small Mary was astonished when the artist gave them all to her.”24

This multi-media sketch (pencil, charcoal, and watercolor) of a Congregational Church in Athol, Massachusetts, was drawn by Gilman in 1925. The inscription reads: “Ever Blessed Christ Love / Always Pointing Upward to the Light Above.” Print, LMDB-15152, Longyear Museum collection.

Gilman eventually drifted away from Christian Science, but the Christian Scientists of Athol and elsewhere in Massachusetts continued to keep an eye on him. Supported and cared for until his passing in 1929, it is thanks to many of them that the artist was able to continue his work.

Gilman’s art at Longyear Museum

Though not a household name, James Franklin Gilman’s artwork is still cherished and collected, and numerous exhibitions of his work have been held in New England over the past 50 years.

“He pictured country life as idyllic and innocent, with man and nature in harmony,” the Worcester Sunday Telegram & Gazette reported about a 1970 exhibition in New Salem, Massachusetts.25 In 2017, the Athol Historical Society held its latest public showing of Gilman’s work, a tradition it has continued every five years since the mid-1970s.26 In addition to private collections, other notable collections of Gilman’s work are held by The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts; the Swift River Valley Historical Society; the Vermont Historical Society in Barre; the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier; and Longyear Museum.

Enjoy this slideshow of some of the artwork by James Gilman in our collection!


  1. James Franklin Gilman to Mary Baker Eddy, October 19, 1901, 353.48.063, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter referenced as MBEL). “Mother” was a term of affection for Mrs. Eddy often used by early Christian Scientists.
  2. Longyear Museum has in its collection calendars by Gilman for 1901, 1902, and 1903. However, in an advertisement brochure Gilman notes that the calendar “was first brought out in 1899.” The 1901 calendar sold for 35 cents per single copy or $2.00 per dozen postpaid.
  3. James Franklin Gilman to Mary Baker Eddy, October 19, 1901, 353.48.063, MBEL.
  4. James Franklin Gilman to Mary Baker Eddy, August 21, 1900, 353.48.062, MBEL.
  5. Gilman’s mother, Elisabeth Gale Olds, who was called Betsey, was from Stowe, Vermont. John Russel Gilman hailed from Woburn. Memoir of Florence Gilman Hadley, undated, James F. Gilman Miscellaneous Papers, MBEL. In 1860, James Gilman’s eldest sister Florence was 10 years old, his brother Charles was six, and little Carrie was two. 1860 U.S. Federal Census.
  6. Memoir of Florence Gilman Hadley, MBEL. “Recollections of Mary Baker Eddy, Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, as Preserved in the Diary Records of James F. Gilman Written During the Making of the Illustrations for Mrs. Eddy’s Poem, Christ and Christmas, in 1893,” 31, Longyear Museum collection.
  7. Although his occupation was listed as a “Farm Hand” in the 1870 Federal Census, it was about this time that James got his start as an artist when a “friendly neighbor in his home town, recognizing his skill in drawing, offered to pay him if he would make a drawing of his home for him.” “Itinerant Artist Gilman Highlighted August 24,” Athol Daily News, Quabbin Times, August 10, 1996.
  8. From a very young age James led an itinerant life. When his mother passed on about the year 1860, the four Gilman children were sent to live with cousins and relatives. It would appear that James never had a permanent home after the passing of his mother. Memoir of Florence Gilman Hadley, MBEL. See also Painting a Poem: Mary Baker Eddy and James F. Gilman Illustrate Christ and Christmas (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1998): 10-11.
  9. James Gilman, “Old Home Pictures,” 1904, Longyear Museum collection.
  10. In her biography on James Gilman, Adele Dawson writes, “This was a full time job at Goddard Seminary, the only regular income that James Franklin Gilman ever had. It lasted two years. Sixteen students elected to take his course the first year. . . . Mr. Gilman was popular with the students. Families still living in Barre remember seeing, when they were children, framed paintings hanging on the walls that were done by an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent who had taken Mr. Gilman’s classes. Stories have filtered down through the years about Mr. Gilman’s insistence on taking his students outdoors to work from nature.” Adele Godchaux Dawson, James Franklin Gilman: Nineteenth Century Painter (Canaan, N.H.: Phoenix Publishing, 1975): 34-35.
  11. James Gilman, “Recollections of Mary Baker Eddy,” 33, Longyear Museum collection.
  12. Writing about himself in the third person, Gilman observed, “This brought him late in 1892 into the clear spiritual conviction that wisdom’s call now was that he should leave his art-practice, and, without having a definite material reason, go to Concord, New Hampshire, in obedience solely to his spiritual intuition that it would be spiritually good for him to do so.” Ibid.
  13. Ibid, 31. Irving Tomlinson records a similar sentiment: “I had a very interesting visit with Mr. Gilman about the year 1901, when in speaking of himself he said that he had been a lone, hopeless wanderer, gifted with native ability for illustration, but he had become dissatisfied with his desultory art work.” Irving C. Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1945), 117.
  14. Gilman, Painting a Poem, 74.
  15. Ibid, 77.
  16. Ibid.
  17. The drawing may be a duplicate of an original watercolor painted by Gilman in the 1890s. He wrote to a friend at the time: “I am making some pictures of horses here for people: have a crayon portrait to make, have made a watercolor painting of an old-fashioned farm place for a specimen of residence picture known to people here. I call it ‘Old New England.’ It is in winter time and there is a horse and sleigh in the road.” Gilman, Painting a Poem, 53.
  18. James F. Gilman and H. E. Carlton published Pleasant View: Twenty Plates of the Home Surroundings of Rev. Mary Baker Eddy, in 1894. The second edition, “with many new views,” came out in 1896. “Pleasant View,” The Christian Science Journal 14 (August 1896): 214.
  19. Gilman was a charter member of the Society, as well as First Reader from August 1900 through December 1902. Steven Preston, “Exhibit to Feature Locally Painted Gilmans,” Worcester Sunday Telegram, September 13, 1970; Athol Daily News, August 10, 1996.
  20. In addition to advertising in The Christian Science Journal, James Gilman was listed as a Christian Science Healer in local newspapers. One carried this announcement: “James F. Gilman, Christian Scientist of Gardner, has opened rooms at 221 Crescent Street, where he will be pleased to consult, free, with all who are interested in Christian Science. . . . His fees for treatment are moderate, and he makes clear the principles underlying the method. He claims that Christian Science, when rightly understood, surely heals the sick, and that it is rapidly coming into intelligent public favor.” Athol Transcript, November 14, 1899. The Athol Chronicle of September 15, 1899 also carried Gilman’s advertisement. Dawson, James Franklin Gilman, 90.
  21. For ten years a group of about 15 people gathered informally in a home in Athol, Massachusetts, until a Christian Science Society was formed in 1889. The Sunday School began in 1901; the first Christian Science lecture in Athol was delivered in 1905 (approximately 500 people attended); and in 1907, First Church of Christ, Scientist, Athol was incorporated. “Among the Churches,” Christian Science Sentinel 40 (July 30, 1938): 960.
  22. Longyear Museum Quarterly News, vol. 9, no. 2, summer 1972.
  23. Ibid.
  24. “Gilman Exhibition Highlights Society Meeting,” Orange Enterprise and Journal, Orange, Massachusetts, September 23, 1970. “James Franklin Gilman paintings on display,” Worcester Telegram, September 26, 2017.
  25. Preston, Worcester Sunday Telegraph.
  26. Athol Daily News, August 10, 1996. The first exhibition on Gilman was held by the Swift River Valley Historical Society in New Salem in 1970. The Athol Historical Society held their first major Gilman art show in 1976, and their sixth Gilman exhibition in 2001. According to the local newspaper, “Gilman’s works are becoming more popular and sought after each year.” “Gilman Exhibit In September,” Athol Daily News, Quabbin Times, August 9, 2001.